A group of consumer activists has formed a new legal action organization--with financial support from nearly 200 trial lawyers--to bring major damage lawsuits against corporations and governments over health, safety and other regulatory issues.

Joan Claybrook, who was head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the Carter administration, said the group is designed to counteract the Reagan administration's deregulation of business.

The organization, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, "is to serve as a supplement in good times and a replacement in bad times for the traditional health and safety regulation," said Claybrook, one of the organizers of the group.

The trial lawyers have contributed $1,000 each to launch the firm, acting on a proposal by Ralph Nader, she said.

Anthony Roisman, formerly a trial attorney with the Justice Department handling the prosecution of illegal hazardous waste disposal, will head a staff of three or four lawyers.

"We are looking for precedent-setting cases," Roisman said. For example, the group will seek damage awards on behalf of people who have been exposed to an unusually high risk of disease from hazardous materials or products, even though the disease may not develop for 10 or 15 years, he said. "The idea is to bring the punishment closer to the act," Roisman said.

Claybrook said the organizers are counting on other experienced trial lawyers donating their time and expertise, depending on the issues the group takes on.

Trial Lawyers for Public Justice is a corporation, and the attorneys on the staff will not receive the large fees customary in successful personal injury actions against companies, Claybrook said. Private attorneys could take advantage of legal victories won by the group by bringing comparable suits, however. Funds from successful lawsuits that are not required for the management of the firm will be contributed to other advocacy groups, Claybrook said.